Recently, my husband and I had dinner with a group of friends. At some point, the dinner conversation turned to the topic of equality between women and men. It was provocative—facts and fictions flowing as much as the wine—and I left the meal feeling that women have made amazing progress over decades of struggle, yet have such a long way to go.
I admit, some deep part of me is both sobered and genuinely surprised that we are still having conversations about women’s equality. Why? Because over and over, studies show a clear fact: empowering women empowers us all.
When women have equal opportunities, nations experience economic growth, the health and wellbeing of people improve, communities and the environment are more resilient, and businesses are more successful. Today’s women are a fiscal force—some estimates claim women control $20 trillion in global spending. (For perspective, that’s twice the size of the economies of India and China combined!) According to country competitive research by the World Economic Forum, gender equality is “fundamental to whether and how societies thrive.” Yes, it’s that important.
HeForShe, an initiative advanced by UN Women and a host of leaders—from movie stars Emma Watson and Anne Hathaway to heads of countries across the planet—invites us to consider that women are not only greatly underrepresented at the table of conversations about the future of organizations and society, they are also a shockingly untapped resource of needed talent and wisdom for shaping that future. And when it comes to the future, the economic rewards are high. Scenario analysis done by the McKinsey Global Institute across 96 countries claims that reaching parity between men and women would realize between $12-28 trillion to global growth by 2025.
As much as the value of advancing women is clear, however, our current thinking feels too binary—vital and necessary as a step forward, yes, but somehow it reinforces the male/female divide we’ve been striving to cross. Progress for women is critical, yet our forecasts about the future must also keep up with the realities of today—as one example, a whole new set of terms about gender fluidity has emerged, adding new dimensions to how we as human beings perceive and define ourselves.
For me, empowering women is not about empowering women alone.
It is about coming into a more balanced relationship with nature, with each other, with ourselves and something greater than ourselves.
It is about respecting and allowing people to, as Rumi says, unfold their own myth.
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” – Rumi
It is about acknowledging the innate worth and sacredness of every human being just as they are and unleashing human potential in ways that contribute to a better future for humankind.
Empowering women is an invitation for each of us to evolve. This is far from easy work. But I believe it is at the heart of the work to be done. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I honor the extraordinary efforts of individuals, companies, communities, nations, and initiatives of every kind to both celebrate women and to use this power of “she” as a doorway for empowering us all.
If you’d like to learn more about our approaches to build thriving leaders and organizations, please contact me at email@example.com.
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